EPA Rules Could Hurry Sunset For US Coal
By Richard Martin
The new rules on carbon emissions from power plants proposed last month by the Environmental Protection Agency mark an important milestone for the reduction of the coal era in the United States, and potentially for the opening of a new era of clean, distributed power generation – but they really only reinforce broader trends that were already underway.
Acting on the vows taken by President Obama in his second inaugural address and his June 25 speech on climate change, the EPA has said it will restrict new coal-fired units to a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt-hour (MWh), well below current levels of around 1,800 pounds from modern coal plants. Natural gas-fired turbines at small power plants would face the same maximum level,while larger gas plants would be limited to 1,000 lbs of CO2 per MWh. To many, the handwriting on the wall for U.S. coal plants has now become an obituary.
“Today’s historic announcement makes it impossible to build new conventional coal plants,” said the Sierra Club’s Bruce Nilles in a phone conversation. Even before today’s announcement, he adds, coal was already in decline: “an advanced coal plant with full pollution controls, scrubbers, a baghouse, and so on, actually can’t compete against wind power and gas-fired generation.”
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